ABU DHABI, GAZA, JERUSALEM – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will hold talks in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia on Monday before heading on to Israel after warning that the Gaza war could spread across the region without concerted peace efforts, while Israel vowed to continue fighting until Hamas was eliminated.
Blinken was in Jordan and Qatar on Sunday at the start of a five-day diplomatic effort in the Middle East seeking to avert a wider war in the region. He is also due to visit the West Bank and Egypt this week.
“This is a moment of profound tension for the region. This is a conflict that could easily metastasize, causing even more insecurity and suffering,” Blinken told a press conference in Doha before heading to Abu Dhabi.
Blinken said he would tell Israeli officials that it is imperative they do more to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza and that Palestinian civilians must be allowed to return home and not be pressed to leave Gaza.
Jordan’s King Abdullah urged Blinken to use Washington’s influence over Israel to press it for an immediate ceasefire and warned of the “catastrophic repercussions” of Israel’s continued military campaign.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue fighting.
“The war must not be stopped until we achieve all the goals: the elimination of Hamas, the return of all our hostages and ensuring that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel,” he said at the start of a weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. “I say this to both our enemies and our friends.”
Despite global concern over the death and destruction in Gaza and widespread calls for a ceasefire, Israeli public opinion remains firmly behind the operation aimed at wiping out the Hamas group that rules Gaza, although support for Netanyahu has fallen sharply.
Israeli officials say some 1,200 people were killed and 240 taken hostage in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, the deadliest day in the country’s history, and accounts of atrocities that later emerged left a sense that its survival is at stake. More than 100 hostages are still believed to be held by Hamas.
Israel’s offensive since has so far killed 22,835 Palestinians in Gaza, Palestinian health officials said on Sunday, after 111 dead and 250 wounded were added to the tally over the past 24 hours.
Palestinians report 50 killed in Israeli strikes
During the weekend, residents reported intense gun battles in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, as well as in central districts of the densely populated enclave. Israeli strikes on houses in Khan Younis killed 50 people, health officials in the hospital there said on Sunday.
An Israeli air strike on a car near Rafah in southern Gaza on Sunday killed two Palestinian journalists, according to health officials in Gaza and the journalists’ union there.
Central Gaza has been the focus of a heavier Israeli ground and air offensive in the past two weeks, with residents reporting tank shelling as explosions lit the skies overnight on Sunday.
The fighting has displaced most of Gaza’s 2.3 million population, with many homes and civilian infrastructure left in ruins amid acute shortages of food, water and medicine.
In a post on social media platform X, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri lamented that Arab and Islamic countries had yet to back South Africa’s call for genocide proceedings against Israel at the International Court of Justice.
“We feel pain that the Arab and Islamic countries have not yet submitted any request to the International Court of Justice against the Zionist genocide in Gaza or supported the request of the State of South Africa in this regard,” he said.
“We hope that there will be a remedy, otherwise this official silence will constitute a mandate for the occupation to eradicate what remains of Gaza.”
Israel denies targeting civilians and says Hamas militants deliberately embed themselves among civilian populations. Hamas, which is backed by Iran and is sworn to Israel’s destruction, denies that.
Blinken discusses hostages
On Sunday, Blinken and Qatari officials discussed efforts to free hostages still believed to be held by Hamas after an earlier agreement mediated by Qatar broke down, something that the Qatari prime minister said was affected by the recent killing of a top Hamas leader.
On his trip, Blinken also aims to press hesitant Muslim nations in the Middle East to prepare to play a role in the reconstruction, governance and security of Gaza if and when Israel manages to eliminate Hamas, a State Department official said earlier.
Outside Gaza, there was more violence in the occupied West Bank, where hundreds of Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers and settlers over the past weeks.
Israel’s military said Israeli aircraft fired on Palestinian militants who had attacked troops in the city of Jenin, and Palestinian health officials said seven Palestinians died in the strike.
An Israeli border police officer was killed and others wounded when their vehicle was hit by an explosive device during operations in Jenin, Israeli officials said.
Israeli emergency services also said Israeli police killed a young Palestinian girl in a car at a West Bank crossing when they opened fire on another car suspected of a ramming attack. —Reuters